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The Climate 202

Who will Maryland's governor nominate next for a crucial climate role?

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re grateful to be no longer stuck in the vice-presidential motorcade.

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In today’s edition, we’ll cover the House vote yesterday to repeal a Labor Department rule on climate-friendly investing and the Postal Service decision to buy more electric delivery trucks. But first:

Maryland governor faces pressure to nominate a climate-friendly member of the Public Service Commission

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s nominee to the state Public Service Commission withdrew from consideration Tuesday following intense criticism from environmentalists.

Juan Alvarado, senior director of energy analysis at the American Gas Association, announced his withdrawal a day after we reported that leading environmental groups in Maryland had raised serious concerns about elevating a fossil fuel industry official to a key energy post.

The entire episode highlighted an increasing recognition among environmentalists that public utility commissions — once considered obscure and sleepy regulatory bodies — play a crucial role in setting state climate policy.

“Public utility commissions are one of the key state agencies that often get overlooked, but they’re where a lot of climate and energy policy is made,” Robbie Orvis, senior director of modeling and analysis at the climate think tank Energy Innovation, told The Climate 202.

Orvis noted that public utility commissions are tasked with overseeing utilities’ long-term planning at a time when the Inflation Reduction Act offers them generous incentives for clean-energy investments. The commissions, he said, “are going to be a key factor in determining how the IRA will roll out.”

Environmentalists are now turning their attention to the next Moore nominee for the Public Service Commission — and whether that person will have acceptable climate credentials.

“Governor Moore has done an excellent, across-the-board job with nominations to key environmental agencies so far and should be congratulated,” Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, told The Climate 202. “But I think it’s best for the state that Mr. Alvarado has withdrawn his nomination for the PSC, and we look forward to supporting a more balanced candidate for the position.”

In a short phone interview Tuesday, Moore spokesman David Turner declined to comment on potential nominees. But several people familiar with the matter, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve their relationships with the governor’s office, identified individuals who have been recommended for the role.

Here are three possible candidates:

Roger Berliner

Berliner, a former president of the Montgomery County Council, has received a letter of support from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), according to two people familiar with the matter.

Berliner originally applied to serve as chairman of the Public Service Commission, the people said. But Moore ultimately nominated Frederick Hoover, an attorney at the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel, to chair the agency.

Before serving on the council from 2006 to 2018, Berliner worked as a policy adviser to Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the congressman who was a lead author of a cap-and-trade bill in 2010.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Berliner declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Van Hollen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Scott Hempling

Hempling, an administrative law judge at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was recommended by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said Kim Coble, the environmental group’s executive director.

In addition to his role at FERC, Hempling serves as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches public utility law. He is the author of the book “Regulating Public Utility Performance: The Law of Market Structure, Pricing and Jurisdiction.”

A cellist, Hempling performs at High Holy Day services for the Riderwood Jewish Community in Silver Spring, Md., according to a bio on Georgetown’s website.

A FERC spokeswoman declined to make Hempling available for an interview.

Meghan Conklin

Conklin, the director of government affairs at the Washington policy firm AnnDyl Policy Group, has received support from Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Conklin previously worked for four years as an environmental policy adviser to Van Hollen. Under President Barack Obama, she served as deputy assistant secretary for transmission permitting in the Energy Department’s Office of Electricity, where she was involved in permitting more than 8,000 megawatts of clean-energy transmission projects, according to a bio on the firm’s website.

Before that, she was associate deputy secretary at the Interior Department and chief of staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Conklin declined to comment for this report.

On the Hill

House votes to overturn Biden’s climate-friendly investing rule

The House on Tuesday approved a resolution that would repeal a Biden administration rule on climate-friendly investing, marking Republicans’ latest attack on ESG — environmental, social and governance — policies, Rachel Frazin reports for the Hill.

The resolution from Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr (R-Ky.) passed by a vote of 216-204. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine was the sole Democrat who voted with Republicans in favor of repealing the Labor Department rule, which gives money managers greater freedom to consider climate change and other ESG factors when selecting investments. 

The Democratic-controlled Senate and White House are unlikely to approve the resolution under the Congressional Review Act, but as a messaging measure, it adds to Republicans’ broader assault on what Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) called a “woke ESG agenda” on Tuesday.

Democrats counter that the Labor Department rule protects workers’ retirement savings, and that Republicans are violating the free-market principles they profess to support.

“Preventing fiduciaries from considering climate change and other ESG factors when selecting retirement investments and exercising shareholder rights isn’t just subjecting American workers to worse returns, it is anti-capitalistic and in direct opposition to a free market,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), co-chair of the Congressional Sustainable Investment Caucus, said in a statement.

House panel advances resolution blocking EPA water rule

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday approved a resolution to revoke a Biden administration rule expanding the definition of waterways that the Environmental Protection Agency has authority to regulate.

Republicans argued that the rule, which seeks to protect waterways across the country from pollution, creates unnecessary burdens for small businesses, farmers, homeowners and manufacturers. 

The rule “needs to be repealed so Americans across the country are protected from subjective regulatory overreach making it harder to farm, build and generate economic prosperity,” Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman David Rouzer (R-N.C.), who introduced the resolution with Committee Chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.), said in a statement.

Republicans on Tuesday targeted both the EPA rule and the Labor Department rule using the Congressional Review Act, which gives lawmakers the power to nullify any recent regulation by a simple majority vote. Since presidents are unlikely to reverse the actions of their own agencies, lawmakers have only successfully used the Congressional Review Act after changes in administration.

Agency alert

Postal Service to purchase thousands more EVs

The U.S. Postal Service will purchase 18,500 new delivery trucks, including 9,250 electric vehicles, and 14,000 charging stations, the mail agency announced Tuesday as part of the Biden administration’s climate agenda.

The acquisitions follow the Postal Service’s move in December to take its custom-built “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” electric by 2026. To replace the rest of agency’s deteriorating 30-year-old delivery fleet, it will purchase EVs from Ford and gas-powered trucks from Stellantis.

The vehicles are expected to be delivered by December and will cost a combined $1.02 billion. The charging stations, purchased from Blink Charging, Siemens and Rexel, are part of a contract worth $260 million that includes up to 41,500 future power units. 

That funding will come from the Inflation Reduction Act, which included $3 billion to electrify the Postal Service fleet. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said his agency will purchase 66,000 EVs by 2028 with that money, giving it one of the largest zero-emission fleets in the country.

Many thanks to our colleague Jacob Bogage for writing this item.

Pressure points

A California tunnel could save storm water for millions. Why is it so divisive?

A proposal in California to capture rainwater has proven divisive among residents, despite a historic megadrought parching the state, The Washington Post’s Scott Dance reports. 

Under the proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the state would build a $16 billion tunnel to siphon runoff water southward. The goal is to aid the roughly 27 million water customers in central and Southern California who are facing the area’s worst drought in more than a millennium. 

However, local residents and several state and federal lawmakers fiercely oppose the project, with some saying it would hurt farmers while failing to solve the state’s larger water woes. Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) has even introduced legislation to prevent the project from receiving a key permit.

The controversy highlights long-simmering tensions in California as the state prepares for a future marked by climate extremes, between extended drought and increasingly intense rainstorms. 

In the atmosphere


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